REVIEW: A MONSTER CALLS (2016)

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A MONSTER CALLS (2016)

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Film by Orphanage director J. A. Bayona is the sad tale of Connor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) who is dealing with not only the terminal illness that is slowly taking his divorced mother (Felicity Jones) from him, but having to live with his stern grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) with whom he has a tenuous relationship, as well. His father is now living in the U.S. with his new family and he has no one to turn to…until a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) appears and says he will tell Connor three stories, but only if the boy agrees to tell the fourth, which is to relate a reoccurring nightmare Connor is having. The boy reluctantly agrees, but soon finds these tales have more in common with his current situation than he could have imagined.

Flick is written by Patrick Ness based on his book that was inspired by writer Siobhan Dowd, who came up with the idea during her own illness, one she sadly did not live to write herself. It is excellently directed by Bayona, though is a very somber and sad story when all is said and done. The film certainly has a strong emotional core, as we watch a young boy trying to deal with the fact that his mother is dying and there is nothing he can do about it. Is the monster there as an imaginary way of sorting through his emotions, or an actual being only Connor can see, that is there to help the boy sort things out? Bayona and Ness aren’t eager top let us find out and the film does have a sort of magic because of it, despite the dour tone. Much like Orphanage J. A. Bayona gives this the feel of a sort of dark fairy tale and it boldly deals with the theme of a child facing the death of a loved one, without sugar coating it or giving it an unrealistic wrap up. That’s one of the things that also holds it back a bit, is that it is overall, a very sad film and contains some very serious subject matter despite having a young child as it’s central focus. On a production level, the FX are excellent, especially in the rendition of the tree-like monster, and the hand drawn illustrations that relate the creature’s tales are full of charm. The film has a wonderful visual style, that does not betray the serious tone, from the eye of it’s director. It also adds loads of atmosphere from Orphanage cinematographer Óscar Faura and an equally appropriate score from Orphanage composer Fernando Velázquez. A heartbreaking yet very well made film.

The cast also contributes much with exceptional performances all around. Young Lewis MacDougall is simply amazing with all the emotions he needs to convey as Connor. He presents a sweet natured young boy who must deal with a turmoil of feelings, including anger, with his mother slowly dying before his eyes and having to deal with both his stern grandmother and a bully at school, as well. The young actor is simply wonderful in a very emotionally heavy role. Felicity Jones will break your heart as the young mother trying to stay strong for her son. The actress gives a truly noble and endearing performance as a woman who will leave when she’s good and ready. Weaver is also very good as his grandmother. She’s is a tough women, but not a villain. Weaver let’s us see the pain she is in, watching her own child fading away and somehow having to deal with that and now raise her grandson. It’s a difficult place her character is in and while she may not handle every situation the right way, we do appreciate her position. Neeson, of course does top-notch work giving the monster both a nobility and a ferocity. He is a creature not without a bit of a heart, fierce as he can be. Neeson also appears in a photo as Connor’s grandfather who we assume is gone as well. Actor Tony Kebbell also has a minor role as Connor’s estranged dad.

In conclusion, this is a very well done and emotionally engaging movie. It is also, however, a very sad film and despite having a young boy as it’s focus, tackles that child facing some very adult decisions and emotions. The cast is exceptional and the film looks sumptuous and the movie works very well, despite it’s somber tone, thanks to a director who knows how to tell this kind of tale…with heart, albeit a broken one.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 books on which this film is based.

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BARE BONES: THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR (2016)

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THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR (2016)

Follow-up to Snow White and the Huntsman, is both prequel and sequel. It starts out telling the origin of The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and takes a page out of Frozen’s playbook by also introducing The Ice Queen, Freya (Emily Blunt), who is sister to evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron). We then jump seven years later, now after the events of the last film, where The Huntsman is sent to find the whereabouts of the magic mirror. He not only finds it, but that his wife/lover, Sara (Jessica Chastain) is still alive and that The Ice Queen has not forgotten him. Worse still, she needs the mirror to revive her sister and take over the land.

Mundane attempt to cash in on Snow White and the Huntsman‘s unexpected success, is directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan from a messy script by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin and without star Kristin Stewart. Nicolas-Troyan has a decent enough visual eye, but fails to bring any energy or excitement to the proceedings. Chris Hemsworth does return and gives it his all and is surrounded by a trio of lovely co-stars in Blunt, Theron and Chastain. The added babe power doesn’t hide the fact that this is an incredibly routine fantasy that tries to add interest by luring in the Frozen crowd with Blunt’s icy Ice Queen. It’s not a bad film and is technically well made, it’s just that nothing stands out or makes it in anyway involving or unique. It’s a typical fantasy quest plot with the usual sword and axe play and offers nothing to make it stand out or memorable. At least Theron dialed it down a bit this time. Poor Chris Hemsworth can’t seem to find any success outside of playing Thor and it’s too bad, he is a charming and very likable leading man. Obviously, his three beautiful co-stars have all done better work too and probably did this for the paycheck. A passible evening on the couch, but nothing you’ll remember the next morning. Also stars a returning Nick Frost and narration by the incomparable Liam Neeson.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: AT THE EARTH’S CORE and WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS

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This week’s double feature is actually a sequel to one done a while back featuring two of the Doug McClure/Kevin Connor/John Dark rubber monster fantasy flicks The Land That Time Forgot and The People That Time Forgot. Now we have the other two in this ‘quadrilogy’, the bizarre At The Earth’s Core and, the only one not based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs book, Warlords Of Atlantis. Enjoy this double bill of cheesy monster madness!

 

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AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1976)

Another fun cheese fest from the Land That Time Forgot people, this time based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first Pellucidar novel…adapted by Milton Subotsky…The story has adventurer David Innes (Doug McClure) and his friend, Professor Abner Perry (the legendary Peter Cushing) test driving a deep earth drilling machine and ending up in a bizarre world at the center of the planet. While there, they battle strange creatures, tyrannical bird men and Innes finds love with the beautiful cave girl Dia (Hammer honey Caroline Munro). Will they get home alive?… will David want to, with his Earth’s core cutie now at his side?

The effects are quite cheesy with it’s styrofoam sets and rubber monsters, but free from traditional dinosaur design, the rubber monsters are quite weird and the landscape is quite psychedelic. Director Kevin Connor (Land That Time Forgot, Motel Hell) doesn’t take things too seriously and keeps the flick moving at a fast pace. His cast play their roles straight…though Cushing is delightfully over the top…but do seem to be having fun and so do we. Add some beers and both Land and People That Time Forgot and you’re good to go with a fun Saturday night of rubber creatures and cave girl cuties. Special to me because it was the first film (second film of a double feature with Bug, actually) I saw at the legendary Oritani Theatre in Hackensack, New Jersey.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 buxom cave cuties!

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WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (1978)

Warlords is the 4th and final of the Doug McClure/Kevin Connor collaborations and this one is based on an original story, written by Brian Hayles, whereas the last three were based on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. As with the previous films, we are treated to the usual formula of action, adventure and an assortment of rubber monsters. This story finds McClure as engineer Greg Collinson, diving bell builder and part of a expedition in the early 1900s to find evidence of the existence of Atlantis. The crew of the Texas Rose find more then evidence, when they are taken prisoner and brought to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis itself. The Atlanteans are actually survivors who crashed here from the dying planet Mars. They now capture seafarers as slaves and plan to take over our planet with our own advancing technology. But there is one problem, their presence here has mutated a number of lifeforms and now these monsters are slowly destroying the Altantean cities one by one. Can Collinson and crew escape? Will the Atlanteans survive an attack by the giant turtle-like Zaargs?

Warlords isn’t quite as entertaining as some of the previous Connor adventures, the story does get a bit convoluted even for this type of flick, but it’s still fun and the added nostalgia of pre-Jurassic Park rubber monsters and model work really helps. There are an assortment of creatures to amuse, along with the Star Trek-ish sets and, of course, a busty slave girl (Lea Brodie) to add jiggle and love interest to the proceedings. Warlords may not be the best of the McClure/Connor collaborations, but it’s still charming enough for those in the mood for an old school monster movie and the kind of romantic adventure flick that they just don’t make anymore. Also stars Shane Rimmer, John Ratzenberger and dancer/actress Cyd Charisse who still had a great pair of legs here at age 56. I saw this flick in 78 at Edgewater, New Jersey’s ShowBoat Cinema, another favorite movie haunt of mine as a kid.

NOTE: Warlords is not currently available, but I luckily found my old VHS copy for today’s revisit. It’s now transferred to DVD. The first three films were released in the US by American International Pictures and Warlords was released by Columbia Pictures which might have something to do with Warlords’ unavailability.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 buxom… there’s a pattern here… Atlanteans!

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